Jon Coupal- Columnist
is an attorney and president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers
Association -- California's largest taxpayer organization with
offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento. [go to website]
13 Anniversary Backlash
Its enemies retell the old myths...
[Jon Coupal] 8/23/03
As a consequence of Proposition 13 marking its 25th anniversary,
we have seen numerous articles and commentaries on the taxpayers'
favorite initiative in publications around the state. Sadly,
this has provided the usual suspects -- those feeding at the
public trough, left-wing pundits, and elitist academicians--
with the opportunity to regurgitate uninformed opinions about
Proposition 13 and have them published, in many cases, as if
they were fact. Add Warren Buffet to the list of those who
need to be educated on this important taxpayerprotection.
We at the
Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association find ourselves, as the legal
and political watchdog over Proposition 13, responding to a lot
of outright nonsense that gets into print.
For example, a reporter
for a Stockton newspaper recently did an article on Proposition
13's impact on education, using as the only source a local school
administrator who claimed that the tax-limiting measure was responsible
for the loss of local spending control over education. Because
of Proposition 13, the argument goes, Sacramento controls the
This is a canard that we see often. The fact
is that it was the California Supreme Court's 1971 Serrano
decision that removed the local property tax as a direct funding
source for education. In this equal protection case, the Court
found that the result of the previous system, where the property
tax funded education, was an inequality of educational opportunity.
A wealthy community with a high property tax base, such as Beverly
Hills, could provide much more money to educate each pupil in
the school system than a city like Compton, where the property
values were much lower. To correct this problem it was necessary
for the State to take over and set up a system in which all schools
receive an equal amount per student, with additional funding
provided for students who fall into specific categories like "English
as a second language." Because
the impact of the Serrano decision began to take effect about
the same time as the passage of Proposition 13, there are those
the education establishment who fervently believe that these
changes were the result of Proposition 13, and they are willing
to tell this to anyone who will listen.
Another common myth about Proposition
13 -- and this one was recently printed in an Associated Press
story that was picked up by at least a dozen newspapers -- is
that Proposition 13 is responsible for the two-thirds vote for
local bonds that must be repaid exclusively by property owners.
In fact, the two-thirds vote for local bonds
dates back to the California Constitution of 1879 when the framers
recognized that not all voters were obligated to pay the higher
taxes that result from bond approval, and decided to level the
playing field. The two-thirds vote for these bonds remained in
force until the year 2000 when a handful of Silicon Valley multi-millionaires
and billionaires spent almost $60 million campaigning to change
the law, and succeeded with the passage of Proposition 39 in
November of that year. Still, many editorial writers continue
to blame or credit Proposition 13 for the two-thirds vote passing
Proposition 13 authors Howard
Jarvis and Paul Gann saw no need to add this provision to Proposition
13 because it was already in the state constitution. Instead,
they used it as an example and wrote Proposition 13 to require
a two-thirds vote for local special purpose taxes and for the
Legislature to pass new state taxes. However, most homeowners
justifiably regard the two-thirds vote for bonds and Proposition
13 as integral parts of the foundation of taxpayer protections
Then there are the pundits -- a former
editor of the Sacramento Bee prominent amongst them -- who wistfully
lament the loss of the "good old days" prior to Proposition
13 when state government, they maintain, performed responsibly
and well and enjoyed a good reputation. They would have us believe
that if the people had not interfered using the initiative process,
government would have all the money it needs and our state and
its residents would enjoy everlasting prosperity.
After reading these flights of fantasy, one has to
ask if these writers actually lived in California prior to Proposition
13 -- a time when Jerry Brown, and his stalwart chief-of-staff,
Gray Davis, presided over a chaotic government that accumulated
a massive surplus
while turning a blind eye to the thousands of people who were
losing their homes due to property tax increases that could double
in a year's time.
But in spite of all these groundless attacks,
as Joel Fox, the author of the new book, the "Legend of Proposition
written, "the people get it." They understand that
Proposition 13 was a profound step made necessary when elected
representatives ignored their pressing need for tax relief. They
understand and appreciate that Proposition 13 for the first time
gave certainty to the taxpayer instead of the tax collector.
Two hundred and fifty Proposition
13 supporters who gathered in Los Angeles on a recent Tuesday
night to celebrate its silver anniversary "get it," too.
They enthusiastically welcomed economist Arthur
Laffer, Wall Street Journal editorial writer John Fund, United
States Treasurer Rosario Marin, and Arnold "The Terminator" Schwarzenegger
-- who paid tribute to Howard Jarvis and Proposition 13.
A common thread through the
evening was discussion of the fiscal mess that the governor and
the Legislature have created by massive overspending.
Regrettably, the massive overspending is putting
huge pressure on our political elites to raise taxes even more.
Thank heaven for Proposition 13, both as a constitutional amendment
and as the frequently described "third rail" of California
Proposition 13 will not be easy, but they will try.